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Simply Smiles provides bright futures for children, families, and communities. The organization partners with populations in need to create physical and emotional environments where suffering is alleviated and from which local leaders can emerge.

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Simply Smiles blog

Follow our blog and read insights from Simply Smiles staff, volunteers and other individuals whose lives are affected by our work!

Filtering by Tag: University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point

Field Notes from the Reservation: Processing the last day of the volunteer week

Alex Gross

The final Field Note for the week from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point volunteer group is brought to you by Vanessa Vincent. 

Our last and most exciting day at Simply Smiles: It was a cold and windy morning but members of the community and the Simply Smiles crew still made the effort to walk side-by-side for the morning mile.

While conversing with community members through out the week, I was honored to be able to hear their stories and their experiences.

On Friday, I was so proud to see the children perform at a concert at their school, in which they sang Lakota songs, played the flute, and hoop danced with Lakota storyteller, musician and dancer Kevin Locke. At the end of the program, our crew was asked to dance the friendship dance, or round dance, with the children.  

The group learns how to hoop dance from the kids at a special presentation at the school! (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

The group learns how to hoop dance from the kids at a special presentation at the school! (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

Vanessa teaches the kids a few new tunes during camp! (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

Vanessa teaches the kids a few new tunes during camp! (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

I feel sad to leave the friends that I have made during my experience with Simply Smiles, especially after working alongside them and talking with the people here. The kids at camp were excited about the games that we provided, and I was so happy that some of them enjoyed playing the piano and singing songs! I was able to teach some of the girls a song on the piano by writing down the notes. The next day one of the girls came to camp and had already learned how to play the song I had taught them! I was thrilled! 

I will take my experience at Simply Smiles back home with me and share what I have learned. I feel I have a broader perception about LaPlant and its community, and I will remember the memories our UWSP crew have made here with Simply Smiles. 


Field Notes from the Reservation: Building relationships, slowly saying goodbye

Alex Gross

Today's Field Note is brought to you by University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point student and Simply Smiles volunteer Leah Reineccius.

Today was a very fun packed day on the Rez! I was so delighted to see that more children walked with us during the morning mile. We are really starting to make closer connections with the community and hopefully brighten their days. 

After some work projects in the hot sun, it was Dr. Suess Day at camp! It was rewarding to see the kids become really interested in the crafts and activities we prepared for them.

I am relieved that many are breaking out of their shells. Just as we start to build relationships with them, however, it is almost time to leave! These kids are so deserving of love and support and it’s awesome that they have continuous volunteers to shower them with affection. 

The kids and group watch on as a game of Knock Out is played on the new basketball court. (A.Gross, May 2015, La Plant)

The kids and group watch on as a game of Knock Out is played on the new basketball court. (A.Gross, May 2015, La Plant)

The kids were also fortunate to participate in a fire safety workshop with the Reservation’s Emergency Management and Response Team this afternoon. They even practiced putting out small fires with an extinguisher. Some were apprehensive at first, but as the UWSP and Simply Smiles staff serving as their buddies, they quickly warmed up to it. I was so happy to see that the kids are gaining skills and experiences like this. I didn’t even know how to know use a fire extinguisher! 

It’s fulfilling to know that simple steps such as this can slowly start the process of building a stronger community.

Reflecting back on the whole week, I feel that our group has had a successful week and it’s hard to believe that tomorrow is the last day. I wish I could give these community members everything in the world, but I feel fortunate to have hopefully made them smile a little brighter each day :)


Field Notes from the Reservation: Learning beyond the classroom

Alex Gross

The latest Field Note is brought to you by volunteer Kayla Skaletski, a social work and sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Today was a great day on the Cheyenne River Reservation with Simply Smiles. We started off the day with the Walk On! program, in which community members - both adults and children - joined us to walk around the school's track. The program seems to have a significant impact on the community, especially the elders.

When staff member Sam explained the significance of the daily mile, it truly showed the dedication of Simply Smiles to not only bringing the community together for another fun activity but also to encourage individuals to carry this healthy habit into other parts of their lives. It shows their commitment to fully enrich the community on every aspect of life from the inside out. 

Ages young and elder appreciate and enjoy the horseshoe pit. It's a place to pass down both traditions and skills. (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

Ages young and elder appreciate and enjoy the horseshoe pit. It's a place to pass down both traditions and skills. (A.Gross, La Plant, May 2015)

The next experience that really stuck out to me was the opportunity to dig the trench by shoveling and bar-breaking the hard South Dakota dirt. I have never felt so good while sweating my butt off, and forming blisters on my hands. It was great because I knew that a very deserving family was going to benefit from my hard work for years to come. Every family has faced hard times, but the members of this community, and this family in particular, have truly faced every challenge possible. This family has been through so much due to historical trauma, economic hard times, continuous prejudice and discrimination by federal programs, and a broken community due to all of these barriers. I wish I could be here when the family finally gets to move in so I can see their priceless reactions of gratitude. 

As a senior undergraduate student with two majors in Social Work & Sociology and a minor in Child Youth Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, I have taken multiple classes in Native American Studies. Throughout these classes, I have had extensive classwork on Native American history and am familiar with the majority of massacres, battles, and broken treaties native peoples and their ancestors have faced.

While I am aware of this horrific history, I have never had the opportunity to experience the impacts of it, and see the challenges it continues to bring to the people in real life. While working with the adults and elders in the community and hearing their stories, I have started to understand history’s impact.

They speak about their current federal housing situations and how it continues to negatively perpetuate their lives. While they are grateful for the housing, it does not help them to live so closely to so many other struggling families. I originally thought it would assist them because of their ability to relate to each other, but I soon realized that how damaging it is because they cannot escape their challenges when they go home. Knowing that we will have the opportunity to help a family escape this continuous traumatic cycle makes all of the physical work more than worth it.

I have had a fun, memorable, and very educational trip so far, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of the week has in store.